Atonement (2007)

Genre(s): Drama / Romance / War
Focus Features || R - 123 minutes - $29.98 || March 18, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-03-20


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Ian McEwan (novel); Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Cast: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Romola Garai, Saorse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave


Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2007


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Director's Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement
  • From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

*** May Contain Minor Spoilers ***

Plotline from DVD back cover: When a young girl catches her sister in a passionate embrace with a childhood friend, her jealousy drives her to tell a lie that will irrevocably change the course of all their lives forever.

Atonement is a tragic and moving love story from director Joe Wright who last directed the romantic Pride & Prejudice, another great film. Wright takes a darker and a much darker tone. His visual palette varies through the two-hour length. The first half takes place in the mid-30s as WW2 gears into motion but the movie is set on a luscious, rich estate. Colors are plush and everyone has that classic texture the 30s are known for. But by the second half, as the events take a turn, we’re in war-torn France. Grays and bleakness permeate and the characters do not have that romantic look. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey gets credit for much of the visual style. His other endeavors include The Hours, Sahara, Enigma and World Trade Center.

The film stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. The two only have a minimal time to develop chemistry together, yet they still give the anchor that will drive the film from beginning to end. There isn’t much character development for the pair but because you have two good-looking people, and two fine actors, their characters work in the confines of the story. McAvoy has been on the fast rise since his excellent performance alongside Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. In just two films, Last King and Atonement, McAvoy has been consistent and I certainly hope to see him more in future projects. Knightley has already proven her worth in a variety of movies over the years – for better or worse. At times she’s excellent (Pride & Prejudice) while others she gives credibility to her detractors (Domino). Here, she’s not special but does enough to make the character likeable.

The highlight of the movie, though, is the now infamous Dunkirk scene. This is a one-shot, 5-minute sequence that takes the viewer around the beach as thousands soldiers wait to be evacuated. Wright and DP McGarvey take on such a daunting task that could have easily been done using editing magic. Not only do you have your three actors needing to walk through and do certain things, but there are also thousands of extras that must look authentic. This scene alone makes me believe Joe Wright deserved the Oscar...

If I had one criticism of the film, it would be the end as the older Briony character (played by Vanessa Regrave) makes penance for her transgressions. It is of no small consequence what she did but does she really pay for what she has done? I guess it’s up the audience, but for me, she does not make things right and comes across just as selfish as when she was a young girl, and add a bit of narcissism to her description as an older lady.

Although this is not a unblemished movie, I still feel, even after two viewings, this is one of the best movies of 2007. Is it better than No Country for Old Men? Absolutely. Despite the flaws, Atonement works for two fine performances and McGarvey’s cinematography.

Atonement was nominated for 7 Academy Award nominations and won one for Dario Marianelli’s (V for Vendetta) superb score. On a poignant note, look for a cameo appearance by Anthony Minghella as the man who interviews the older Briony. Director Minghella, at the time of this writing, recently passed away at the age of 52.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

Director’s Commentary – Joe Wright sits down for an insightful, though not enthralling, commentary track. Like his commentary for Pride & Prejudice, Wright keeps on point and gives the audience a variety of information from shots he felt didn’t work to the performances to the Dunkirk sequence. I’m still not a fan of these solo tracks, but this is still a fine commentary.

Deleted Scenes (7:28) – Seven scenes are included. As Wright says in his optional commentary, the scenes were taken out to get to the story quicker. While most of them look fine, including a two-minute sequence where the three soldiers walk along (before Dunkirk), I’m glad these were removed.

Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement (26:15) – This is a disappointing ‘making-of’ that covers everything from casting to set design to location settings, all under 30-minutes. I would’ve liked to have seen more on the Dunkirk sequence than what was shown here...

From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic (5:00) – Quick featurette that examines taking a novel and condensing it down to a screenplay.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 1.85 OAR. Wright’s rich texture looks great on the small big screen. The colors pop nicely and, in the second half, the darker tones still look great.

The Dolby 5.1 track is perfectly fine; a good portion is used on the score. Dialogue is confined to the center speaker with ambient noise coming from the other speakers.



.::OVERALL::.

Atonement isn’t a perfect nor is it one of my favorites of all-time (in reality, 2007 was quite a disappointing at the movies for me), but the film still has good performances, a heartbreaking story and masterful imagery. While the DVD has some decent features, I would’ve liked to have seen more, especially about the Dunkirk sequence, but what’s there is suitable for most.